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Basic watchmaking tips - cleaning

  1. Archer Omega Qualified Watchmaker Apr 14, 2017

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    I wanted to pass on some things that I thought may help the people on here that are trying their hand at some watchmaking. I hope to post a few threads on specific topics as time permits, and what I’d like to do is keep each thread as much on one topic as possible so the information doesn’t jump around too much. My hope is that these threads can act as a reference for those who have questions in the future also. My goal here is to pass on tips and techniques that I have found useful in my time at the bench.

    A lot of watchmaking is “the devil is in the details” and although topics and technical issues can get quite esoteric at times, it’s the basics that largely determine if your work is successful day in and day out. That’s why I’m starting with the most basic thing there is – cleaning and cleanliness in general. My instructor used to repeat certain things over and over, and he did so for a reason – they are important to your success. Two of those things I keep in mind every day I sit down at my bench:

    1 - "The watch you are working on is only as clean as your bench is." It appears so basic and obvious it almost seems not worth saying, but the number of photos I see of benches that are completely filthy with watches being worked on them would tell me that some don’t really take this to heart. So before you start your day, take a clean and lint free rag, splash some 99% alcohol on it, and wipe down your bench – don’t forget your task light, because if it’s dusty every time you reach up to adjust it, dust will fall down onto the work area.

    I (try) to clear off my bench of tools and clutter every night before I finish for the day, so the next morning the bench is uncluttered and all I have to do is wipe it down and I’m ready to start work for the day. I do admit that on occasion I have worked late enough that I leave it, but that’s is the exception. It is amazing how quickly the bench can become cluttered, so keeping on top of it is a good idea.

    2 - "The watch will never be cleaner than it is when it comes out of the cleaning machine." So when it comes out of the cleaner it’s your job not to contaminate it as you work. This is why I wear finger cots – I see so many photos of watchmakers handling part with bare fingers and it makes me cringe every time. Now finger cots are not 100% necessary and in fact my instructor did not wear them, but he never touched any watch part with his bare fingers – he was able to manipulate everything with tweezers.

    I see videos where people take a huge wad of Rodico they have sitting on their bench and they touch it to the movement over and over – all this does is make the watch movement dirty again. As I’ve said before Rodico and similar products are not allowed by many brands, as they do tend to spread contaminants around the movement. I don’t use One-Dip at my bench, because not only is it unhealthy, but unless you change the solution after every part you dip in it, over time it becomes contaminated. For me, if I get a part dirty at the bench somehow, it goes back into the cleaning machine.

    So with those two key thoughts out of the way, and since I just mentioned cleaning machines, I’ve received questions via PM from several members in the past regarding how to clean without a fancy machine, and what kind of cleaning solutions to use. You will find many home made solution recipes out there, but one thing to keep in mind is the purity level of the base components. Often the cleanliness standards for bulk stocks of chemicals are not the same as solutions made specifically for cleaning watches, so even if you use all the same chemicals in the same ratios, the end result may not be as good. I personally use L&R brand cleaning solutions, and I have tried other brands also, such a Zenith, but I always comes back to the L&R as I find them to be the most effective.

    So no matter if you have an automated machine or not, typically you use a number of containers for cleaning. So for example if you have just a bath style ultrasonic tank (like what I use for cleaning cases and bracelets) you would use that for cleaning watches by filling the tank with water, and using jars of cleaning solution that would sit in the water, rather than filling the tank itself with cleaning solutions. As a minimum, 3 jars are needed, and these are the three jars from my automated machine:

    [​IMG]

    These are due for a change, so the jar on the far right is the actual cleaning solution – L&R Extra Fine cleaning solution. It is solvent based and includes ammonia for the cleaning action – the smell is strong so as always proper ventilation is required when using these chemicals. The other 2 jars are rise solutions, and both contain L&R rinse - a clear, colourless solution when new. When you change cleaning solutions, you change 2 of the three jars typically, so the cleaning solution in jar 1 is changed with new solution, then jar 3 moves to jar 2 as the first rinse (solution is not changed), and then the rinse in jar 2 is changed to new solution and becomes the final rinse in jar 3 – here they are after the change:

    [​IMG]

    The new cleaning solution and new final rinse ensure that the movement parts come out clean. My machine has an automated spin off of excess solutions between jars, and at the end a heating element is used while spinning the baskets to dry the parts thoroughly. If you are using a tank machine then you should try your best to accomplish the same things, so removing as much excess fluids from your parts between jars will prolong the life of your cleaning solutions (less contamination carried from jar to jar), and drying with warm moving air will help ensure that parts are dried properly.

    Now with regards to how long to run whatever machine you have, that really depends on the strength of the ultrasonics you have, so this may require some experimentation on your part to find the timing that gets you the cleanest parts without risking damage. Typically modern automatic machines use cycles of around 3 minutes for each jar, although I can increase the time for the first jar to as much as 15 minutes on my machine.

    Another thing to consider is creating a log for the cleaning machine – I keep mine right beside the machine. It has the date of the last solution changes, and when I run a movement through the machine I mark an X on the chart, and this helps me keep track of how many movements I’ve cleaned since the last change. If I clean a particularly dirty watch, I may mark down 2 X’s just to reflect that the level of contamination was particularly large. In order to save on solution changes, I will sometimes leave a really dirty movement until just before the change, and clean it then, change the solutions, and give a second run through the machine. I don’t have hard and fast rules here, so again it takes some experience to know how many movements you can clean before the solutions need changing. Of course the final arbiter of this is the movements themselves – if they are not coming out clean, then looking at your solutions is the first step. Please note that you should follow all your local rules pertaining to disposal of these solutions.

    Last items for this post are some steps taken before the cleaning machine. Watchmakers use some rather simple and very traditional tools in their work, and two of those are peg wood and pith wood. Peg wood is basically a small diameter stick of fairly soft wood that is used for cleaning jewels. It is typically purchased in bundles from a watch material supply house, and although it seems pretty obvious, I’ve seen people use it in a way that doesn’t make it as effective as it could be. The first thing is the material selected – I sometimes read that people use those round and rather hard toothpicks, and those are actually a bit too hard to be used as peg wood is intended to be for jewels. It’s not that it would damage the jewel, but I’ll show you what I mean shortly. The other thing about peg wood is how it’s sharpened, and I’ve seen references to people using a pencil sharpener for these. Here is how I sharpen my peg wood:

    [​IMG]

    Clearly done with a knife, and I have an Exacto knife at the bench for this. The style of sharpening is intentional, as I don’t really want a round profile, but more of a triangular cross section. Three quick pulls with the knife and the peg wood is ready to use. The shape helps to scrape debris for the inside diameter of the jewel hole, so that’s why that cross section is typical. In terms of the hardness, this is what the peg wood looks like after cleaning a jewel:

    [​IMG]

    You can see that the wood has been extruded through the jewel hole, and this ensures that every part of the hole has been scraped. A piece of wood that is too hard will not work as well for this. Now I have pegged both before and after cleaning, and have finally settled on doing my pegging of the jewels before putting the parts in the cleaning machine. There are times when I have to peg after cleaning in situations where the jewels are really caked with dirt. Note that you should use some care when pressing on jewels, as it is possible to press them out sometimes when pressing too hard.

    Pith wood is typically made of elder pith, and is a soft wood that is used for cleaning things. I will often push the pivots of wheels into pith wood to clean them before putting them through the cleaning machine, and I regularly use pith wood for holding the pallet fork while applying epilame treatment to the stones:

    [​IMG]

    Good pith wood seems to be difficult to find these days, but ideally it should not crumble on you or leave a lot of residue/dust behind on the parts. The same with peg wood – the better material does not flake and crumble as easily as the cheaper stuff does.

    The last tip for this post is to demagnetize before cleaning the movement parts:

    [​IMG]

    The reason you do this is pretty simple – even if the watch is not magnetized to the point where it causes running problems from the coils of the balance spring sticking together, the parts can still attract ferrous debris if you don’t demagnetize – this escape wheel is fresh out of the cleaning machine after I forgot to demag it, and you can see why I demagnetized and cleaned it all again:

    [​IMG]

    Hope you find some of this helpful, and again these don’t seem earth shattering, but are the foundation for good work and good results.

    I’ll address some post-cleaning items in the next installment to this thread.

    Cheers, Al
     
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  2. sxl2004 Apr 14, 2017

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    Very very helpful!
    Thanks!
     
  3. oddboy Zero to Grail+2998 In Six Months Apr 14, 2017

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    Great stuff Al.

    Now, mods, lock the thread! Maybe these could be a running series.
     
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  4. François Pépin Apr 14, 2017

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    Thanks a lot Al! This is exactly the kind of advice and explanation that can really help amateurs like me!

    I am pretty sure meditating your post and trying to carefully follow your advices will permit to make big improvements!

    For instance, I thought witty to sharpen peg wood with a pen sharpener. Not anymore...

    By the way, I bought a bottle of One Dip for a while after seeing online a watchmaker using it to clean incablocs. After reading the maker's recommendations and the safety issues, I have decided not to use it...
     
  5. Archer Omega Qualified Watchmaker Apr 15, 2017

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    I do intend to continue with more cleaning tips in this thread at some point (tomorrow if I have time). I also welcome any specific cleaning related questions people might have, so ask away.

    Cheers, Al
     
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  6. JimInOz Melbourne Australia Apr 15, 2017

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    Al, with regard to using jars in the ultrasonic tank.

    Do you find the jars attenuate the ultrasonic effect or is it negligible?

    I've tried using sandwich bags with cleaning solution in the US water but the jars may be a better solution.
     
  7. Archer Omega Qualified Watchmaker Apr 15, 2017

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    Hi Jim,

    I'm surprised that plastic bags would hold up in the machine at all - one of the tests people do to get a feeling for the strength of the machine is to submerge a piece of aluminum foil and run the machine - the foil is usually perforated by the cavitation action. Generally speaking there will be some reduction in the US action, but jars are pretty much the standard way of doing this in a tank style machine.

    Not knowing the specifics of your machine, I can only suggest you try it and see how the jars work.

    Cheers, Al
     
  8. duc Apr 15, 2017

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    Outstanding information.

    I have a basic question about owners cleaning the externals of a watch. My watches run towards the tool watch category and I wear them all without regard to my activities. I'm mostly an office guy but I do spend a lot of time (at times) on construction sites. As such my watches may get a little grimy. I usually clean my watches with a toothbrush and soap in the shower. I'm not too aggressive but I do pay attention to the nooks and crannies. I've never had any problems but still wonder what your opinion of that practice is.

    Thanks.
     
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  9. kov Trüffelschwein. Apr 15, 2017

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    Many thanks for this very complete and interesting thread. Quite contrasting with the recent wtf wus-like discussions. :rolleyes: Thank you for sharing your experience in a such detailed manner ;)

    Can't wait for the next part to come :thumbsup:
     
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  10. BillLundberg Apr 15, 2017

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    It's encouraging to see You sharing your knowledge and expertise! Thanks!

    If I had the resources I would try it myself.

    Thanks again!
     
  11. JimInOz Melbourne Australia Apr 15, 2017

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    The sandwich bags held up fine, but I found one great advantage with the jar method, they don't tend to float!

    I tested my machine by putting some WD40 on an old movement, then into a jar of warm water and into the bath. As soon as the machine was turned on the WD40 began to emulsify and disperse throughout the water (now a milky solution).





    So, you can use an US bath with the three jar method which replicates a traditional cleaning machine?
     
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  12. OhMegaMan Apr 15, 2017

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    As for non watchmakers, a concentric tips on how to clean watch for daily use will be helpful as well. I managed to scratch the AR coating while cleaning. Costly mistake.
     
  13. Archer Omega Qualified Watchmaker Apr 16, 2017

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    Yes. This is what many people do that don't have a machine specifically for cleaning watch movement parts. So there are generally 3 types of machine designed for cleaning watch movements. One is pure ultrasonic like this system with the tank machine would be like - a common machine used was by Bulova - the Watch Master:

    [​IMG]

    The second type is an agitation type machine - these can be had for as little as $500 (for models made in India) and are made by various companies, but Elma is a popular one from the past:

    [​IMG]

    Here the head that spins is raised and lowered manually, and swung from one jar to the next. Of course new versions look much fancier (and are much more money), but are essentially the same thing:

    [​IMG]

    And the last type combine agitation and ultrasonic. One that I used in school was the Tempo 400 - I liked it because the jars were small which meant you could change solutions more often and not feel like you were wasting the solutions:

    [​IMG]

    Newer machines are much fancier and run up in the $20k+ range.

    Cheers, Al
     
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  14. Archer Omega Qualified Watchmaker Apr 16, 2017

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    I generally don't recommend wearing watches in the shower. I can usually tell when someone does this all the time because the bracelet is actually dirtier. The soap residue that builds up from daily showering (it usually doesn't get fully rinsed off) gets into the links, attracts dirt, and causes wear.

    For daily cleaning of the watch head, I would just use a soft damp cloth - just a little water. If you have a build p of junk in small crevices, using a toothpick to clean those out is fine and won't damage or scratch anything on the watch. If you feel the bracelet needs cleaning, the ideal way is to remove it from the watch and put it in an ultrasonic tank with some type of soap. I have used a number of different cleaning solutions for cases and bracelets, but I find Mr. Clean diluted in water works great in the ultrasonic tank.

    If you are going to use water either directly on the watch head or wear it in the shower, just make sure you regularly get the watch checked for water resistance.

    Cheers, Al
     
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  15. jaspert Apr 16, 2017

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    Great pictorial and helpful advice.
     
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  16. Archer Omega Qualified Watchmaker Apr 16, 2017

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    One thing I should mention is that it's not just the bench that influences the cleanliness of the work area and work. Keeping the entire room clean also helps, as does filtering the air. I have placed filters on the heating vent that lead to my main watchmaking space, and I replace the filters on my heating/cooling system regularly with the best filters I can buy. I also wear a white shop coat as I work most of the time, to keep any potential lint from my clothes from floating around near the bench.

    Of course any work that creates a lot of dirt and debris should be in another work area. Most brands require that the cleaning machines, lathes, and of course polishing equipment is in a separate room, and often with separate ventilation. So I have 3 separate work areas to keep all these things away from each other.

    If you live in a climate that gets cold like I do, and use heating in the winter, often your hands can get quite dry. So although I don't want to make this into a health a beauty tips thread, keeping your hands and fingers in good shape will also help. If I don't keep my hands moisturized in the dead of winter, then dry skin can flake off as I work and contaminate the work.

    So to carry on, after the movement has been cleaned and you begin your work, of course the first thing I do is inspect the parts fresh out of the cleaning machine. I use my 10X loupe to inspect the plates and bridges, and the wheels, etc. go under the microscope to check for wear. During this process I am looking for areas that might not be 100% clean, and addressing those as I go along, so if something needs additional cleaning, this is when I do that.

    When inspecting the jewels for cleanliness, I’m looking for dried residue on the jewel. Here is an example of what I’m looking for on the flat side of the jewel:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Note that you can’t see this looking directly at it, so you have to tilt the jewel and get reflected light coming from it to see that it’s not clean, so this I would peg and wash again.

    In a recent thread it was mentioned that peg wood can be used to put light pressure on bridges while lining up pivots in their jewels. Although this works, peg wood does come with a risk of wood fibers flaking off it, so rather than that I use this:

    [​IMG]

    My instructor called it a “plexi stick” and it’s a simple piece of 4 mm diameter clear acrylic rod. On one end I have shaped it to look like the blade of a flat screwdriver, and the other end I have shaped into a point. I would avoid some of these sold by certain watch material suppliers that are coloured – the first one I tried was opaque and red, and it would flake off bits as bad as the peg wood was. The clear acrylic stands up very well and I literally go years between touching it up. This tool is almost glued to my left hand as I work, and other than tweezers is the most common thing I am holding in my hand at the bench. It has a multitude of uses, so holding down bridges, holding down flat springs as you install them, and even making end shake adjustments to the barrel arbor. So for that last one to check end shake in the barrel I assemble the barrel without the mainspring, and hold it on the barrel closing tool while moving the arbor up and down like so:

    [​IMG]

    I then use the plexi stick to adjust the lid or drum of the barrel to correct the end shake:

    [​IMG]

    Another cleaning technique I use at the bench is for cleaning cap jewels after the cleaning machine. Sometimes you will see a recommendation to use epilame on cap jewels, but I rarely do this. For cap jewels with shock protection (mostly what I see) the cap jewel can be cleaned very well by using watchmaker’s tissue paper and a leather buff stick:

    [​IMG]

    The watchmaker tissue paper comes in small 4.5" squares and is lint free. The best paper I’ve found is made in the US by Newall, and has the brand “Security” on it. I place the cap jewel flat side down on the paper, hold the paper with my left hand, and use the buff stick in my right hand to draw it across the paper:

    [​IMG]

    The cap jewel comes up very shiny, clean, and the oil I place on it beads like it would with epilame treatment:

    [​IMG]

    Note that this is also a good time to really look at the cap jewel to make sure it's not worn. Even though these jewels are ruby (corundum) and quite hard, a watch that is left to run with dried lubrication can wear a good divot in the jewel:

    [​IMG]

    You most often find these worn in the upper jewel - the upper jewel is opposite the dial side, so the jewel that the staff would be running on with the watch dial up. Yes this can be confusing when you first start as you would think that the dial side is the upper jewel, but it would be the lower jewel in watchmaking terms. This can cause a large difference in balance amplitude dial up to dial down, so it's a must to check this in particular on vintage watches.

    I’ve discussed the use of Rodico before, but as I’ve mentioned most watch brands ban it’s use because not only does it spread contaminants, but it can leave a residue even if it’s brand new out of the package and has never touched anything before. The regular green Rodico is the worst in my experience, but even the grey Rodico "premium" is bad for this. I have used A*F Rub-off which is bright blue, and it leaves the least residue in my opinion, but still I don’t use it on movements, dials, etc. I do use it for cleaning out case grooves for the seals, and things like that. The traditional Swiss material for removing contaminants was rolled up bread, but I can’t say that I have tried it personally. :)

    These days there are better options available for cleaning of lint and dust particles, so I personally use Bergeon 7007-22 cleaning swabs – these are tipped with a rather sticky urethane coating (I believe) that will pull dust and debris from a dial, movement, or the inside of a crystal, all without leaving anything behind. You clean them by using a sticky pad that is purchased separately:

    [​IMG]

    These I find are excellent in particular on dials, and those glossy dials can be tough to get spotless with any other method in my view. Although cleaning the dial, hands, and crystal of debris is not difficult technically, it can be quite time consuming, and these help cut that time considerably:

    [​IMG]

    Now one tip about cleaning dials is that the angle the light hits the dial is important for showing any debris that might be there. Looking at a dial straight on with the light right above will only show so much of what is there. I find that holding the dial almost vertical (how it would be if you were wearing the watch and held your arm up to check the time) with the light shining across the dial surface will show things that you can't see looking at it head on. There's nothing worse than spending 30 minutes carefully cleaning the dial and crustal, to put the movement in the case, then see a small fleck on the dial when you hold the watch at a different angle, so trying different angles will help you get it all.

    Now in addition to the checks for cleanliness that are very general in nature, there are also some things I do that are very movement specific. For example on automatic winding watches that use a ball bearing in the rotor, I perform a specific test called the bearing damping test. This checks the cleanliness and condition of the bearing in the rotor. So after cleaning the rotor with the movement, I use a piece of peg wood in the middle hole of the bearing, and I place that across a movement holder. I use tweezers to swing the bearing to 90 degrees from the hanging position, and let it swing:

    [​IMG]

    I use a watch close by that I can see to time how long the rotor swings, and I'm looking both at how long the swing time is before it stops, and also how abruptly the swinging stops:

    [​IMG]

    If the swinging stops very abruptly, that is a sign that the bearing is not clean or is worn. I also pay attention to the sound of the bearing as it swings, and if it is really noisy compared to what is normal,. that will trigger a second cleaning. For the time of the swinging, different movements have different times that the rotor should swing for, and with the Cal. 1120 rotor shown above, Omega specs call for it to swing for 45 seconds before stopping. If it fails this test I clean it again, and run the test again. If it fails a second time, I replace the bearing. Now for an ETA 2824-2, I would be expecting a swing time of 1 minute, and for an ETA 7750 I would be looking for 1 minute and 20 seconds. For others that I don't know the duration, I use my judgement based on the size of the bearing in relation to the weight of the rotor. After the bearing passes the test, I lubricate the bearing (very small drop of 9010) and run the test again. I don't want the time the bearing swings to drop off more than 5 or 10 seconds at most - if it does then too much oil has been applied, and I would start all over.

    I do use some other tools for cleaning cases, so after cleaning the case in the ultrasonic tank, then drying it off, I remove debris using the bench vacuum system I have. Here is the small vacuum pump that is tucked away beside my bench, and it’s started/stopped using a foot pedal:

    [​IMG]

    The “business” end is on the tube with a soft brush, and a valve to open in order to vacuum away loose dust and dirt:

    [​IMG]

    Now this wasn’t cheap, but I do find it very handy for cases – these should never be used on movements in my view, and using it on dials would be risky. I do know some people who have managed to jury rig something like this for far less than a commercial unit costs, so that may be an avenue more open to those who don’t want to spend a lot of money. Note that canned air can also be used to blow out dust and dirt, but using air from an actual compressor you would have to ensure that no oil, water, etc. is coming from the compressor before using it for watches.

    The last tip I have for now is something I’ve posted about before, and that’s using an anti-static gun:

    [​IMG]

    I do find that with watches that have acrylic crystals in particular, that they can get a static charge built up from wiping them with a cloth that can cause dust to build up quickly, so a couple of shots with one of these (my old one from my LP cleaning kit) it really helps keep the static under control.

    Again I hope you find these useful.

    Cheers, Al
     
  17. François Pépin Apr 16, 2017

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    Thanks Al!

    That is clearly the best text I have ever read about this topic.
     
  18. ChrisN Apr 16, 2017

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    Great explanation, Al.

    Knowing the time necessary to get all of this together in a logical fashion, thanks for the effort you've put in.:thumbsup:

    Cheers, Chris
     
  19. sxl2004 Apr 16, 2017

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    I like the LP cleaning relic!
    :):D
     
  20. wristpirate Apr 16, 2017

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    Fantastic write up, thanks for that